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Volunteer Spotlight, Sergeant Stephen Dangler

Sergeant Stephen Dangler is retiring on April 27th after 24 years with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office River Patrol, a division of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

As well-known in the community, as he is on the waters, it is typical, and will be missed, to see Steve cruise along our river, waving to families and passers-by. It’s not always smooth sailing, however, for this critical faction of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office, which oversees 110 miles of waterways from 6am to 10pm, with a direct line to 911.

“Anything that can happen on the streets of Portland can also happen on the water,” he said. The calls can range from minor medical calls to death investigations.

There is very something special that Steve looks forward to every year, and that is the Special Olympics Oregon Polar Plunge event.

“I’ve been there every year since it started,” he said, “I went from boat safety operator to being in the water for rescue. Eventually, I helped manage each event every year after getting promoted in 2011.”

Help with Super Plunge and Portland Polar Plunge takes way more orchestration and organization than people would think.

“There is a safety element involved,” he said, “we begin meeting in October each year. Planning meetings involve resources, who is going to secure certain resources, locations, coordination of work crews, road crews, and barriers; there are a lot of folks involved in the process when you have that many vehicles coming into an area and managing a 5k run, where you’ll have to clear pathways, provide crossing assistance, and be on deck for water rescue.”

Steve works with other Special Olympics Oregon staff members and volunteers, like David Abrahamson, as well as the Port of Portland and a Marine unit to ensure a well-run and safe event for all.

981 participants flooded into Willamette Park this past February to take part in the annual Super Plunge and Portland Polar Plunge.

Formally he was part of the Super Plunge crew, going in the water every hour on the hour for 24 straight. The River Patrol team is in dry suits, but, as Steve said “it still is cold! We’ve had a (variance) over the years from 36 degrees to 47 degrees, which was this past year. We work in 8 to 12-hour shifts, ready for a rescue if necessary, which we’ve had to do over the years.”

Steve is so grateful to be part of the Special Olympics Oregon community, participating in other events outside the Polar Plunge, like the Torch Run and Tip-A-Cop, which he said was “so fun to do,” and he plans to carry his passionate volunteerism to Arizona, where he’ll be moving after he retires.

He said, “It’s amazing to be a part of such an overwhelming fundraiser endeavor. You see the athletes involved. You see the families. You get to work closely with the organization that helps put this fundraising together. I’ve become friends with some of the athletes and their families over the years as well as with the staff.”

Steve is thrilled to see the direction Special Olympics Oregon is moving in. “They’ve got a great management team in place,” he said, “and they are moving forward in such a positive direction.”

Britt Oase, CEO of Special Olympics Oregon, has equally kind things to say about Steve and his involvement.

“If you’re looking for Steve Dangler on Plunge Day, look for the biggest, brightest smile by the water.  He has been the symphony conductor of law enforcement during the Portland Plunge, and it’s hard to imagine this event without him!  Someone will certainly pick up the role he has so lovingly played for Special Olympics Oregon, but his heart is impossible to replace.”

Britt continued, “Steve loves our athletes, and they love him — we all do.  As long as he’s able to snag a breakfast sandwich from the Super Plunger tent at the crack of dawn, he’s good to go for the entire day – rain, snow, or shine.  When I scroll back over the years that I’ve been involved in the Plunge, many of my favorite memories are of sharing a laugh or story with Steve – Portland and Special Olympics are better because of him.”

What does retirement look like for someone like Steve, who has been so deeply involved in the community and has dedicated 30 years in public service, including a stint in Special Needs education prior to his current career?

“My hope is to connect with a team in Phoenix, which is where I grew up. It will be a big change, yes indeed. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family. But I’m going to miss the people I’ve worked with and the community I’ve served for so many years.” He also plans to learn to play golf. “My son started last year and is better than me already,” he said laughing.